Union Priorities Aren't So Distant By Christian Klein
Article Date: 10-01-2008
Copyright(C) 2008 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.
With widespread Democratic muscle, they're striving to secure, organized labor could quickly succeed in pushing the card-check and paycheck fairness bills into law.
Even most Republicans concede that when the 111th Congress convenes in January, Democrats will be running the show on both sides of Capitol Hill with expanded majorities. An important factor in the Democrats’ apparently imminent victory in November’s congressional elections will be organized labor. Unions have so far contributed more than $40 million to House and Senate candidates in the 2008 election cycle. More than 90 percent of the money has gone to Democrats. The unions are also putting feet on the street to help canvass for D candidates around the country. With that sort of political investment, unions aren’t expected to waste much time next year pushing their legislative agenda.One of the top union priorities is the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA or “the card check” bill), which would eliminate the right to a secret ballot in union organizing elections. Republicans have assailed the legislation as contrary to the fundamental democratic American values U.S. troops are fighting to promote in Iraq and Afghanistan. As one recent GOP campaign ad put it, if card check passes, “union enforcers could confront workers at their workplace, on the street, even at their homes at dinner time, to demand they sign a card in their presence giving their vote to the union. That’s not democracy, that’s thuggery.” The EFCA is a cornerstone of the labor movements’ effort to reassert itself and reverse the decline in union membership. An example of political symbiotics, the bill will make it easier to organize unions, thereby allowing them to grow and provide more campaign support to Democrats. No wonder that last year’s recent House vote on the bill split largely along party lines.The Paycheck Fairness Act (PFA) is also at the top of the union agenda. The bill would dramatically expand the Equal Pay Act (EPA), which generally prohibits compensation discrimination between male and female workers. Other federal employment laws allow for limited punitive damages only after a showing that the discrimination was intentional and that the employer discriminated “with malice or with reckless indifference to the federally protected rights of an aggrieved individual.” However, the PFA would amend the EPA to allow unlimited compensatory and punitive damages even for unintentional violations.The PFA would also raise the bar for employers defending themselves in EPA cases, thereby making it easier for employees to sue. Current law permits wage discrimination on the basis of legitimate factors like seniority, merit, and quantity or quality of production, which the employer must assert and prove as affirmative defenses. However, the PFA would muddy the water for employers by requiring them to show that these “other factors” are specifically related to the position in question or that they further a “legitimate business purpose.” The bill would disallow this “legitimate business purpose” defense in cases where the employee shows that “an alternative employment practice exists that would serve the same business purpose without producing [a pay differential] and that the employer has refused to adopt such alternative practice.”
Whether a business purpose is legitimate and whether a feasible alternative practice exists would be left to the courts. In a statement from the White House opposing the bill, the Bush administration said that if this particular provision becomes law, “The judicial system – judges and juries – would supplant the free market system to determine how businesses must be run and how much they must pay individual workers.”Both the EFCA and PFA have passed the House, but have been stymied in the Senate by a threatened Republican filibuster. A Bush veto has been the ultimate bulwark against these bills. But next year, all bets are off. Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has cosponsored both; Republican John McCain has sponsored neither. It’s unlikely, but the Democrats might win a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, but if that happens, the EFCA and PFA will be only a presidential signature away from becoming law.
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